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Journey to Justice

By Joe Gunn

12/17/2014
Tom Ryan, CSP
Growing into Christmas by imagining ‘degrowth'

“I’m dreaming of a . . . (insert your favourite word here) Christmas . . . just like the ones I used to know.”

My wish would be to insert the word “sane” if my Christmas dream was to come true.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love the Christmas season.

But a “sane” Christmas would certainly mean less of the hustle and bustle, none of the crowded parking lots at chain stores, no pressure to find the “perfect (store-bought) gift,” and fewer guilty feelings about leaving my ecological values aside in the rush to encourage the “Christmas spirit.”

When I take time in Advent to slow down and ponder what Christmas really is supposed to mean, I revel in the sanity of our Christian biblical message — as well as more good visits with family and especially small children, deeper conversations with dear friends, longer evenings in the kitchen baking Christmas cakes and Mom’s favourite cookies, more leisurely hours spent listening to (and singing) Christmas carols, and finding new ways to celebrate a “green Christmas” that minimizes the harm our seasonal overconsumption loads onto nature.

A new publication of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is a good source for furthering this type of Advent reflection. “Living with limits, living well! Hints for neighbours on an endangered planet” is the title of a new booklet prepared by the brilliant staff of Toronto’s Jesuit Forum for Social Faith and Justice. The booklet highlights seven 90-minute sessions for reflection and discussion on “challenging the growth mantra,” “listening to the cry of the Earth,” and using less energy. As Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the bishops’ conference, writes in the foreword, this tool helps small groups to “understand the economic structures that maintain unjust situations, discover how to challenge the culture of individualism, and integrate Catholic teaching into their own choices . . .”

According to Anne-Marie Jackson, director of the Jesuit Forum, the booklet is being used by several religious congregations, the heads of religion in Catholic high schools and some Development and Peace groups across Canada. It is available in French, and even some representatives of non-Christian religions are contemplating its possible use.

Very early on, the booklet asks us if we can imagine “degrowth.” This concept, which has been advanced by a range of environmental, economic and some religious thinkers, goes beyond the already widely held notion that our habits of consumption and economic development must drastically change if humankind is not to completely annihilate nature’s limits.

“Degrowth” actually suggests more than restraint, meaning, at least for some, belief in the need for a “steady state economy” or “a post-growth economy,” or something the authors refer to as “inclusive growth.” While one can agree with David Suzuki that “the pursuit of endless growth is suicidal,” it is unfortunate that the authors do not exactly define what they mean by the term “degrowth.” Instead, they list several websites of different think-tanks which variously employ this term.

The United Nations has long used the concept of “pro-poor growth” to describe the fact that growth is still needed among many victims of the dominant economic systems that deny basic incomes to hundreds of millions of persons even today. Author Naomi Klein, speaking at a “degrowth” conference in Germany this year, expressed her preference for what the French have called “selective growth.” Her speech advocated for “a deliberate economy,” i.e., one that grows in areas that are light on the Earth, like the caring professions, teaching, arts, etc., that “expands in how we treat each other and contracts when it comes to the mindless use of resources.”

In her best-selling book on climate change, This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. The Climate, Klein develops the concept of living “non-extractively.” By this she does not mean that extraction does not happen, since “all living things must take from nature in order to survive.” Nor will the 1970s “small is beautiful” response be adequate to current environmental challenges. Klein argues that there is no getting around the rules of nature’s finite limits, and that it isn’t about stopping or retreating — but aggressively working toward restoration and regeneration (pages 447-448).

The Jesuit Forum has offered a “sane” gift this Christmas — by beginning the conversation toward “re-thinking the neo-liberal world order” and presenting theological constructs that can help us all to challenge it.

Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical organization that promotes justice, peace and the integrity of creation.